Anyone who bears the emblem while at pro-Russian protests in Lower Saxony and Bavaria could face up to three years in prison or a fine, according to officials.
"It is incomprehensible to me how this symbol 'Z' could be used in our country to condone this atrocity," stated Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius, according to WION.
German officials noted that while "Z" would be banned in situations connected to pro-Russian rallies, the letter is not entirely restricted. "The letter Z as such is of course not forbidden, but its use may in individual cases constitute an endorsement of the Russian war of aggression," a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry told reporters, according to Reuters.
The letter "Z" has become a prominent icon online in several pro-Russian and pro-Putin propaganda videos. Initially painted on the side of Russian vehicles entering Ukraine, it soon became a rallying point in Russian media. It is unclear what "Z" stands for explicitly. While some interpret the letter to be a reference to "Za pobedy" (for victory) or "Zapad" (West), Russian state media have not stated what the icon represents.
While Germany has yet to implement total sanctions against Russia due to its reliance on Russian oil, the decision to bar "Z" imagery at pro-Russian protests resembles Germany's laws regarding Nazi imagery. Germany passed a series of hate speech laws in `1998 that prohibited Holocaust denialism, spreading Nazi propaganda, and displaying swastikas.